Tips on Writing or E-Mailing Elected Officials

Elected officials need to hear from those most impacted by the housing crisis. They need to hear your story and the stories of your co-workers, neighbors, friends. It’s time employee housing is made a priority in our community.

Your input will help shape the way decision makers develop and implement housing and land-use policy.

Although e-mail is a good method of communicating with elected officials, a letter, mailed or faxed, is the most effective communication. Elected officials realize that every letter they receive generally represents the opinion of many other constituents that did not take the time to write.

Letters to public officials need to possess four major ingredients: formality, clarity, civility and brevity. A letter that gets noticed will have the following qualities:

  • Original
  • Neat
  • Correct grammar, syntax
  • Appropriate vocabulary
  • Well-organized
  • Formal/respectful in salutation and address
  • Positive and civil in tone
  • Succinct
  • Find common ground
  • Not overly-dramatic, but candidly honest about impact of a favorable decision on the lives affected by it (yours, your family, your co-workers, your employees)

Address your correspondence correctly

Heading:

The Honorable First Name Last Name, Council Member or Planning Commissioner
City (or county) of

Greeting:
Dear (Supervisor, Council Member, Mayor, etc)

State who you are and what you are writing about
Use personal or business stationery if possible. Include your name and address and the date on the letter.

Keep your letter short
It should be no more than one page. A typed letter is easier to read.

Get to the Point
Clearly outline the issue of concern to you and what action you would like taken.

Personalize your letter
Your letter carries more weight when the elected official knows you have taken the time to write a personal letter

Tell Your Story
Tell how the housing crisis is affecting you. Are you affected by the lack of housing available for the local workforce? Are you making sacrifices to live and work in Santa Barbara? Do you commute a long distance to your job? How does this affect you and your family?

Be courteous
Always be polite – your letter will not carry as much weight if you are insulting.
Don’t bother to dispute your opposition’s position. Instead, state your position clearly with facts to back it up.

Ask for Action
Ask the elected official to take action.
Elected officials need to hear from the community in order to represent them properly.

An ineffective letter:

Sarah Jones
City of Bella Vista City Council

Ms. Jones:

There’s going to be a housing project you have to vote on in September. It’s called the Main Street project, and will have apartments and condos that someone like me can afford. If you don’t support this project, you’re basically saying you don’t want me to live here.

I know there’s been a lot of opposition to this project, but consider the source: just a bunch of “I’ve got mine” NIMBY’s! Don’t pay any attention to them, because they’re just thoughtless, uncaring people. They probably didn’t vote for you, anyway.

If you don’t vote for this project, I’m going to be really upset, and you can expect to hear from me at future city council meetings.

Marsha Halfbright

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